Conservationists say a 'Tortoise Mafia' is driving Madagascar's tortoises to extinction. Armed gangs of up to 100 have been sweeping the countryside for their slow-moving prey.
They say insatiable appetites at home for the meat and as pets in booming Asian markets are leaving species such as the Radiated Tortoise close to extinction.
Formerly protected under a cultural taboo among local tribes in southwest Madagascar, tortoise meat used to be served up only on special occasions. Conservation groups now say immigration and poor harvests have led to massive and unsustainable consumption.
They claim the streets are littered with the remnants of hundreds of pieces of tortoise shells as some communities eat the meat as a part of their daily diet.
Ryan Walker, biologist at Nautilus Ecology, says the large and slow-moving Radiated Tortoise is literally defenseless against a poaching 'mafia', as are the communities that try to respect the or tortoise.
Traffic, an organization that monitors trade in endangered wildlife, recently reported that the stunningly beautiful Radiated Tortoise is the most common tortoise in Asia's illegal pet-markets.
Smugglers are known to pack up to 400 tortoises the size of grapefruits into suitcases to fly from Madagascar to Bangkok in Thailand.